Supporters of the effort to bring pro soccer to Indianapolis this week marked the one-year anniversary of their "Build the Brickhouse" mission to multiply the fan collective known as the Brickyard Battalion.
Established on Aug. 3, 2011, as force to rally for local pro soccer, the BYB pushed its expansion efforts into overtime in late 2012 when they learned that a deep-pocketed businessman had hired a well-connected soccer executive to explore the possibilities of making the pro soccer dream a reality. Now their group is nearing 2,000 members and, even in its early stage of development, the team is eliciting the envy of its opponents and the interest of top players from local and international markets.
In back-to-back evenings of celebration Nov. 3-4, crowds of Indy Eleven's most strident fans gathered at Chatham Tap — on Mass Ave. the first night and in Fishers the second — to marvel at how much the soccer community has accomplished in terms of advancing the sport during the past year.
Soccer lovers have a much bigger party coming up on Nov. 11 ["11/11"] at the Indiana Historical Society when the team will toast an army of at least 1,000 season ticketholders. Those 11/11 partygoers are just a fraction of the overall force that is committed to a full season of Indy Eleven home games. Team President and General Manager Peter Wilt said Monday that the team had so far sold 6,890 season tickets —ahead of the rest of all its counterparts in the North American Soccer League, except the New York Cosmos, and on par with the nearby Columbus Crew of Major League Soccer.
Less than 100 season tickets remain. The team then plans to move into group and individual sales. Tickets range from $10-$30 per match and $135-$390 for the full 15-game season ticket
"A year ago today, our president and general manager, Peter Wilt, was still a consultant," said John Koluder, the team's communications captain. During that consultation, Wilt found an answer to the question team owner Ersal Ozdemir tasked him to consider, Koluder added, "a resounding yes."
"It's been a joy and fun to bring this team to Indiana," Wilt said. "Thanks for making it enjoyable; I'm looking forward to the year ahead."
This grassroots support enabled Indy Eleven's "undefeated coach" Juergen Sommer, a star goalie for Indiana University's 1988 national-championship-winning team and the first American goalkeeper to play in the FA Premier League, to offer his fans a confident report.
"I can honestly say, at this point, we have the pick of all (the players) that have come in," Sommer said. "The staff caters to players' needs. The players and their agents see what the staff and the fan base is all about. They see what we're building and they want to be a part of it."
He said the Eleven has hosted former MLS players and international players at training/try-out sessions, including a couple from Cameroon who played in the U20 World Cup in Turkey, as team leaders debate how to fill out the roster for 2014's inaugural season, which kicks off in April.
So far, the team has signed just one player: Kristian Nicht, a German goalkeeper.
"I'm confident we'll put a good product on the field in year one," Sommer said. "At the end of the day, it comes down to players wanting to be here because we are a soccer town."
When Indy Eleven approached the Columbus Crew, where Sommer played in 1998 and 1999, for a training match, they "couldn't believe" what Indy had to report about ticket sales, which were "so far ahead" of the Crew when they joined the MLS, Sommer said.
"They're worried about their players coming to us," he added. "I've been on the job for five months and there is not a day I'm not excited to get out of bed. ... A lot of people I played with early on, as we make the rounds showing up at reserve games, they're not so friendly anymore."
That's the kind of talk Xandi Mossman, who played for four years as an outside midfielder at North Central High School, came to hear.
"So many teams have come through that have fallen apart, I'm excited to have a team with so much support," she said. "It's been a long time coming."
Indy's high school soccer "has been super competitive for awhile," she added. "A professional team will allow us to upscale that competition. It's not only fun to go watch a game, it's educational for kids, so they can learn to play the right way. They can learn and grow in Indianapolis."
Mossman cited the American Outlaws club, which supports the U.S. National Team, as example of fan culture at a broader level. Successful clubs have and need passionate fans, she said.
BYB member Josh Baker said when he heard last year about the option to bring a team here, he got involved with the effort to build the fan base, an effort that, according to Baker's fellow BYB member Josh Mason said has yielded quantifiable results with a community of 1,700 registered members.
"For those of you who would like to be more involved, there's a volunteer section on the events section of the website," Mason said, noting Indy Eleven staff often partner with volunteers to support team participation with public events across town.
As per actual game attendance, the BYB has a large section to fill, Mason said, "everyone needs to show." He encouraged people to get involved in learning chants.
"The way we win is to put butts in the seats — we have to have contribution from the public," he said.
The BYB is further personalized through the unique identities of various chapters throughout the city. The Slaughterhouse 19 supporters' group — the first chapter of the Brickyard Battalion — is particularly interested in punk/D.I.Y. culture, equality of all people and "supporting the team and our city with whatever we do," member Andy Sturm told the Chatham Tap crowd.
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Flat 12 partnered with the team at Monday night's celebration, featuring their Red Oat-tober and a pale ale, but the team demurred on announcing a formal beer partnership for next season. The Eleven specializes in heightening anticipation over every last detail of the team's metamorphosis from rumor to reality — from the suspense over which new players will be added to the roster to just what in the devil will emerge as Indy Eleven mascot. More will be revealed 11/11, Wilt promised, perhaps even the team's television agreement. "Expect to have every home game televised and some away," Wilt said.
The GM did settle one matter on the spot Monday night. In response to a fan's question regarding the availability of vegan food at games, Wilt said that food trucks would "supplement the normal stadium fare" and that vegan options would be included.
The remarkable success of season ticket sales so far is exciting, but sustaining that excitement is another challenge altogether, Wilt said, noting "the onus is on us to see that fans have value and come back." From parking, to food and beverage, and the overall environment at the game, "it has to be good," he said.
Guy-Jo Gordon, the Eleven's community relations manager, responded to a question about the team's art and culture outreach efforts, noting they've been to events like ORANJE to establish connections. In February, he added, the team will host its own show in which 11 local artists will riff on the team's tagline: "The World's Game, Indiana's Team."
Bring it on
Has the team cast any opposing teams as a "natural rival?" one fan asked.
Because the New York Cosmos finished the season as points leader in the North American Soccer League — and because the club is known as the most free-spending — they are the first to come to mind, Wilt said. "Atlanta is technically the closest NASL rival for fans considering road trips," Koluder added.
The Cosmos will face the Atlanta Silverbacks in the 2013 NASL Soccer Bowl in Atlanta at 7:30 p.m. Sat., Nov. 9. It will be televised on ESPN3 and ESPN Deportes.
The Eleven staff is traveling to Atlanta en masse on Saturday, armed with new chants courtesy of the Slaughterhouse Nineteen. Meanwhile, back in Indy, the Slaughterhouse crew will host a Soccer Bowl watch party at Union Jacks in Broad Ripple.
*[Full disclosure: This reporter made her down payment on season tickets, wears Indy Eleven gear and is a card-carrying member of the Brickyard Battalion, which is free to join and offers discounts at supporting establishments across town (20 percent off food orders at Union Jack, for example). On the subject of soccer, she must confess a personal passion that can't help but shape her reporting on the subject. She appreciates readers' indulgence.]